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Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of my very favorite novels.  I adore it and have read it many times.  (Each time I read it, I feel like I inch closer to full comprehension.)  I have a soft spot in my heart for David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune; it’s a terrible movie, but I still find quite a lot to enjoy.  I am an unabashed fan of John Harrison’s three-part Dune adaptation for the Sci-Fi channel from 2000, as well as the 2003 follow-up Children of Dune.  Some of the visual effects from those mini-series haven’t aged well, but I think the cast in both mini-series is fantastic, there’s lots of wonderfully weird design work, and most of all they approached the adaptations with seriousness and great reverence for Frank Herbert’s work.  But while I love those previous efforts, I still felt that a definitive, fully satisfying adaptation of Dune had not yet been achieved.  To say that I was excited when I heard that Denis Villeneuve would be adapting Dune for the big screen would be an enormous understatement.  I am a huge fan of Mr. Villeneuve’s previous two gorgeous sci-fi films, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and I thought he was the perfect choice to tackle Frank Herbert’s epic.

Mr. Villeneuve and his team did not disappoint.  Dune Part One is a masterpiece.  It is a magnificent piece of work.  It is stunningly gorgeous.  The cast is extraordinary.  The film digs deep into Frank Herbert’s universe; they have produced a remarkably faithful adaptation that is able to respect the richness of the world of Dune while also compressing and simplifying the story and the vast cast of characters to present it all in a way that is clear and easy to follow.  The film is long, but it is masterfully paced and never lags.  I was hooked in right from the first frame and on to the last.  I could have easily watched three more hours of Dune immediately.  Do I really have to wait years for the second half of the story???

(I really wonder how general audiences will respond when they get to the end of this film.  It doesn’t end on a “dun-dun-dun” cliffhanger, but the we’re clearly leaving off in the middle of the story.  It’s very similar to the end of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring film…)

(Update: Dune Part Two was green-lit yesterday, with a release date of October 2023.  I’ll be very impressed if they’re really able to get that second film into theaters in just two years!  I hope that happens.  While I applaud and support to split this adaptation of Dune into two films — … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Film Adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

After revisiting The Shining and then reading Mr. King’s sequel novel, Doctor Sleep, I was eager to see the film adaptation, written and directed by Mike Flanagan.  The film, like the novel, picks up the story of Dan Torrance, decades after the tragic events at the Overlook Hotel.  Dan has spent years struggling with the trauma he suffered as a child, and he has often viewed his supernatural abilities (his “Shine”) as more of a curse than a gift.  But at last he has found peace, living a quiet life in a quiet New Hampshire town, working at the local nursing home/hospice.  But his peaceful life is threatened when he befriends a young local girl, Abra, with a Shine more powerful than his ever was.  Abra’s shine has made her the target of the True Knot, a group of immortal vampire-types who consume the Shine of young children as a way to extend their own lives.  Dan must now embrace and use his Shine as he never has before, if he is going to be able to help Abra and try to defeat this evil which has marked the two of them as their next victims.

I really enjoyed Mr. King’s novel, and I was extremely pleased and satisfied by this film adaptation!  The film has apparently been a box office disappointment, which is a shame, because it’s a terrific film, a satisfying adaptation of Mr. King’s novel and also a satisfying sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film.

Mr. Flanagan’s film takes the difficult path of attempting to be both a faithful adaptation of Mr. King’s novel Doctor Sleep, as well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, which diverged from Mr. King’s novel The Shining in a number of ways.  I was continually pleased and delighted by the ways in which the film slightly tweaked the Doctor Sleep novel’s story so as to maintain continuity with Kubrick’s film.  Here’s a great example: the novel contains a scene, early on, set very soon after the events of The Shining, in which Dick Halorann teaches young Danny how to create a locked box in his mind, in which he can trap the ghosts and other horrors that are drawn to him because of his Shine.  This is a critical scene, because Dan will use this ability throughout the story.  But the film is faced with a challenge: how to have that scene, when Dick was killed off in Stanley Kubrick’s film!  (He survived in the original novel.)  Cleverly, the film presents this scene with a twist at the end: only Danny can see and hear Dick.  The implication is that Dick in this scene is a ghost.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Men in Black: International

I really enjoyed the first Men in Black film, made back in 1997.  It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.  But none of the sequels have ever lived up to the potential of this series’ wonderful premise (of a secret group of men and women whose job it is to protect the Earth from extra-terrestrials who mean us harm).  Over the last twenty-plus years, there have been various wild attempts to re-start this franchise, but none of them have ever quite worked the way they should have.  This fourth film, Men in Black: International, is no exception.

I was excited to see a new Men in Black film, and I loved the idea of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson stepping in as the series’ new leads.  The two of them had terrific comedic chemistry in Thor: Ragnarok, and I was eager to see them re-teamed.

But, unfortunately, I found little of interest in Men in Black: International.

The film is amiable enough, but for an action comedy it is really not very funny (there were like five jokes in the whole film that made me laugh), and for a sci-fi adventure it’s very small-scale and small-looking.  (Godzilla: King of the Monsters demonstrated the same near-incompetent story-telling, but at least that film was gorgeous to look at, a humongous big-budget spectacle.  I feel bad to be disrespecting the many people who I’m sure worked very hard on this movie, but Men in Black: International looks to me like it was made on the cheap.)

The story-telling in this film is stunningly amateurish, which continually cuts the movie off at the knees.

What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s start with how, in my opinion, the film totally fails to properly set up the story or the two leads.

We learn in the early-going that Tessa Thompson’s character Molly discovered the truth about the Men in Black as a kid, and that she has been trying to become a part of their organization ever since.  Then we see that she has a terrible job at a call center, and yet that she has somehow been able to track spacecraft in Earth’s vicinity on her work computer.  What?  How??  The film can’t be bothered to do the work to actually show us how Molly could achieve that — thus laying important pipe regarding her skills and her smarts.  Instead, she just somehow magically has this information on her computer at work.  Then, once she locates and sneaks into MIB headquarters, she’s quickly accepted as a probationary agent by Agent O (Emma Thompson), and sent on a mission to London because there is a “problem” … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mission: Impossible — Fallout

It is astonishing to me that not only does Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible film franchise still exist a whopping twenty-two years after the first movie was made (1996’s Brian DePalma-helmed Mission: Impossible), but that the series has arguably never been better!  I really like that first Mission: Impossible.  The second film is the weakest, but things got back on track with J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, and the series has been on a heck of a roll since then.  Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) came on to helm the fourth film, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which was even better than the third film, and then Christopher McQuarrie (author of The Usual Suspects) came on to helm the fifth film, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, which I thought was the best film of the series!

For the first time in this film franchise’s history, a director has returned for the next film, with Mr. McQuarrie returning to the director’s chair for Mission: Impossible — Fallout.  While we’ve had to wait a lot of years between the last several installments, this sixth film comes fairly hot on the heels of 2015’s Rogue Nation, which was a pleasant surprise.  With Mr. McQuarrie back at the helm, and most of the cast of Rogue Nation returning, would Fallout be able to match the greatness of that film?

I am pleased to say it does!  I’ll have to see Fallout again to decide if I think it’s better than Rogue Nation, but it’s certainly as good and a wonderful follow-up piece.  Mission: Impossible — Fallout is a triumph of fun pop action-adventure filmmaking.  It’s a delight from start to finish, filled with terrific characters, a tightly-woven plot (that actually, for the most part at least, makes sense), and some of the most outrageously bonkers action sequences I have ever seen.  I loved it.

Fallout certainly stands on its own, but for fans of this series, it’s a delight to see the way these films have gradually begun to cohere into a larger continuity.  I love how Missions III, IV, V, and now VI all fit together, leading one into the other and developing characters (good guys and bad guys) across the films.  The first few Mission films were completely stand-alone, and it was certainly fun to see different directors craft entirely different types of Mission films.  But I love seeing the connections between these more recent films, and Mission: Impossible — Fallout is filled with pay-offs to character relationships we’ve been watching develop across these past several films.

Whereas the first several Mission films were about Ethan Hunt: superhero — on his own fighting bad guys (with … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation!

Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series has always been a somewhat weird franchise.  Rather than having tight continuity between films, every film has felt like it’s own unique one-off adventure, usually very driven by the style of the director.  And so it’s been something of a pleasant surprise to see how smoothly the third, fourth, and now fifth films in the series have fit together, and how much creative energy this series still has even in its fifth installment.

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In Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt and his team at the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) find themselves beset by adversaries on all sides.  They face an internal political challenge from CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who wants to shut down the IMF.  Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt has been, for months, on the trail of a secret agency known as The Syndicate.  This “anti-IMF” is a cabal of villains aimed at disrupting the global status quo that Hunt and the IMF aim to protect.  Soon Ethan and his handful of friends and allies find themselves all that stands against this terrorist organization.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.  Mr. McQuarrie wrote The Usual Suspects, and he made his directorial debut with Jack Reacher, which also starred Tom Cruise.  I thought that film was a something of a bore (click here for my review, in which I think I was kinder than the film deserved), but I guess second time’s the charm because Rogue Nation is a terrific film, a fast-paced romp that is stuffed full to overflowing with great action and humor and fun, telling a story that is intense and compelling without ever being dour.

The film starts off with a bang, with a whopper of a pre-credits action sequence (see photo above).  This sequence, which involved Tom Cruise actually hanging off the side of a plane in flight, has been hugely promoted in the weeks and months leading up to the film’s release.  What a surprise it was to discover that the whole thing takes place in the very opening minutes of the film!!  Well played, folks.  (This is a nice contrast to the very first Mission: Impossible film, about which I just wrote last week, which spoiled its big action climax in all of its trailers, something I am still sore about to this day.)

The tone is perfect in what I want from a Mission: Impossible film.  There is strong momentum from start-to-finish, as the film moves smoothly from one tremendous action set-piece on to the next.  The action in this film is extraordinary.  There are quite a few spectacular sequences that each might have been … [continued]